Pakistan close to peace pact with militants: NYT (Lead)

April 25th, 2008 - 5:58 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto

New York, April 25 (IANS) Pakistan is close to a pact to end fighting with militant tribes in its border area along Afghanistan where Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud is accused of orchestrating most of the suicide bombings in recent months including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The draft of a 15-point accord that has been readied calls for an end to militant activity and an exchange of prisoners in return for the gradual withdrawal of the Pakistani military from part of the tribal region of South Waziristan, The New York Times reported Friday.

Amid negotiations, Mehsud has ordered his fighters to cease hostilities in the tribal regions as well as in the adjoining North West Frontier Province, warning of strict punishment for violators.

In Islamabad, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik lauded the ceasefire declared by Mehsud. He said: “We will give the nation good news very soon regarding the peace initiative.”

But the Times said US and Afghan officials were sceptical of a deal with Mehsud, blaming past accords for allowing the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup, fortify their ties and use Pakistan as a base to plot attacks.

Referring to the possibility of the latest accord, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: “We are concerned about it and what we encourage them to do is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there.”

The new development in Pakistan comes after the democratically elected government, wanting to make a break with the policies of President Pervez Musharraf, started pursuing dialogue with the militants to restore calm in Pakistan.

Although Musharraf too negotiated with the militants, he used the military in the tribal areas in a way that many Pakistanis criticised as heavy-handed. In the process, hundreds of Pakistani troops died in fighting.

Mehsud is Pakistan’s most notorious militant and leads an umbrella group of the militants in the border areas, known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

Pakistan’s previous government and US officials have said a communications intercept linked him to former prime minister Bhutto’s assassination in December. A Pakistani court has charged Mehsud in absentia over the killing.

But Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari and other members of her Pakistan Peoples Party have doubted the previous government’s version of the events that led to the former prime minister’s killing.

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